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Micro-Budget Horror Films That Made Millions

Here's one way to hit the lottery, figuratively speaking: simply come up with a great, new idea for a horror film, scrape up just enough money to make it, hope you happen to land at a quality distributor, build some word of mouth, and then sell tons of tickets all over the world. It's easy, right? Well, no. It's actually quite difficult, and there is also some luck involved. But here's a solid handful of horror classics that managed to pull it off.

The Blair Witch Project (1999) 

The "found footage" approach to horror filmmaking was not invented by The Blair Witch Project, but it was the first film to use the technique to its creepiest (and most profitable) potential. The story itself is rather simple (three young filmmakers trek into the ominous woods of Maryland and quickly get lost) but the voyeuristic filmmaking style and the sly, subtle scares proved we were dealing with something a lot cleverer than your basic indie horror flick. And to say that the mysterious, internet-based marketing campaign helped this movie make a lot of money would be a massive understatement. Production budget: $500,000 / box office haul: $249,000,000 / sequels & remakes: 2

Paranormal Activity (2009)

Clearly inspired by the unassuming smash hit that The Blair Witch Project became, another group of filmmakers tried their hand at "DIY" horror movie production, and man did they happen to hit the jackpot in this case. Once again, the premise couldn't be simpler: a young couple find themselves haunted by an invisible presence, so they set up a bunch of cameras to see what's going on. But it was the presentation and the legitimate scares that audiences responded to, and boy did they.  Production budget: $230,000 / box office haul: $193,000,000 / sequels & remakes: 7

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

George A. Romero's low-budget zombie classic has inspired more movies, books, TV shows, and videogames than anyone could accurately count, but his celebrated debut was also a massively important film in the area of representation. And while Mr. Romero never hid his film's attempts at social commentary, he never forgot how to deliver a dark, fascinating and entertaining horror film. Also he practically created what we consider the "modern" zombie, so maybe raise a glass to the man the next time you're enjoying a crazy zombie attack. Production budget: $125,000 / box office haul: $30,000,000 / sequels & remakes: 7

George A. Romero's low-budget zombie classic has inspired more movies, books, TV shows, and video games than anyone could accurately count

Psycho (1960)

Often cited as the progenitor of the slasher flick, Alfred Hitchcock's classic chiller was not just a pop culture sensation; it was also a massive smash at the box office. And in 1960, moviegoers were not exactly prepared for a few of the movie's more memorably horrific moments, including the early misdirect, the shock ending and the now-legendary shower scene. It's safe to say that Hitchcock's scariest film struck a chord with moviegoers; it became his most profitable movie in short order. Production budget: $807,000 / box office haul: $50,000,000 / sequels & remakes: 4
 

Halloween (1978)

John Carpenter's endlessly cool and unexpectedly classy slasher classic exploded in late 1978 -- for several years it was the most profitable indie film of all time -- but it has stood the test of time simply because it's a masterfully constructed thriller that boasts a smart screenplay, a great cast, and more sustained suspense than most horror films even attempt. Feel free to dive into the massive franchise after that, but it's the original you'll keep coming back to every October. Production budget: $325,000 / box office haul: $70,000,000 / sequels & remakes: 11

Saw (2004) 

This breakout smash may not have been a "micro-budget" production, but it's certainly close enough to qualify, plus it kickstarted a massive franchise that was ridiculously successful at the box office, and (not surprisingly) a big hit with the genre fans. Say what you will about the circuitous sequels -- I kind of enjoy the soap operatic nonsense of it all -- but there's a lot about the original Saw movie that's really impressive: it's a unique blend of whodunnit, suspense, and outright horror; it's got some movie stars having some gruesome fun; and it's got a butt-kicker of a twist ending that had genre fans buzzing for weeks.  Production budget: $1,200,000 / box office haul: $104,000,000 / sequels & remakes: 8


Hopefully this information will make some aspiring creators feel better; you don't need a ton of money to make a great horror movie. You just need a really good idea, and some fantastic filmmakers. So the money is probably the easy part.

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